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Election 2012: State Proposition Guide

Produced by KQED News and The California Report

Proposition 34

Repeals the Death Penalty

Scott Shafer/KQED

At a Glance

  • Proposition 34 repeals the death penalty and replaces it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
  • It applies retroactively.
  • It requires people convicted of murder to work while in prison and specifies that part of their pay will go to crime victims.
  • It creates a new fund to help law enforcement solve rapes and homicides more quickly. A total of $100 million would be transferred from the general fund to this project over four years.
  • Budget Impact: The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates California would initially save $100 million a year, and would transfer part of this to the new fund for four years. Eventually, the state would save $130 million annually.


  • This Proposition
  • Entire Guide

Currently, a person convicted of first-degree murder in California can be sentenced either to death or life in prison without parole when certain "special circumstances" have been proven, for example, the killer used a bomb, or the victim had been kidnapped or was a police officer.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, about 900 people have been sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed, 83 have died before their execution date and 75 have had their sentences reduced by the court as of July 2012, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

What Proposition 34 Does

Eliminates the death penalty, making first-degree murder with special circumstances punishable only by life in prison without parole. It also changes the sentence of the 725 offenders who are currently on Death Row to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Does it Save Money?

Court proceedings to execute an inmate can take decades, according to the state Legislative Analyst's Office. The LAO estimates that if the death penalty is repealed the state and counties could save about $100 million annually in trial and appeals litigation and corrections costs; after several years that savings would grow to an estimated $130 million annually.

Those savings would be somewhat offset by a special fund the measure would create that sets aside $100 million for grants to local law enforcement to help investigate homicides and sex crimes. That money would come from the General Fund over four years. In 2009, about 47 percent of homicides and 68 percent of rapes were unsolved, according to the Attorney General's office.

Arguments For and Against:

Supporters say...

the measure would save California millions of dollars and prevent the possibility of executing an innocent person.

Former San Quentin warden Jeanne Woodford initiated the measure. The ACLU, California Democratic Party, League of Women Voters and the California Conference of Catholic Bishops support the measure.

Opponents say...

the measure lets criminals escape justice.

Many law enforcement associations oppose the measure, including the California State Sheriffs' Association and the California District Attorneys Association. The state Republican Party is also against the measure.